“I understand congratulations are in order,” Chase caught up with Grant inside the latter’s City Hall office.
“Thank you,” Grant accepted the proffered hand to shake, even as he double-checked, “I thought you didn’t believe in marriage. Something about the government sticking their nose into private citizens’ affairs.”
“I don’t believe in ritual circumcision either, but when invited to a bris, I smile politely and bring a gift.”
“Am I getting a gift?” Grant wondered.
“In a manner of speaking.”
“Am I going to want to return it?” Grant read Chase’s body language.
“Probably,” he concurred.
“What’s going on?” Grant crossed his arms, instantly on the defensive.
Chase hesitated for only a moment before announcing, “I’ve decided to reopen the investigation into your father’s death.”
“What the hell?”
“You know this is something I’ve wanted to do from the start.”
“And you know that I asked you to drop it. We had a deal.”
“No. We had an understanding. Last fall, I didn’t want your father’s association with the compound to taint this office, vis-à-vis my association with you.”
“That’s right. What’s changed?”
“I have. Or, rather, my guilty conscience has. I’ve spent months living with the fact that I allowed my personal feelings to put the people of Bay City in danger.”
“Nothing has happened. Carl must have been right. My father’s death did settle his debt with the compound. None of us are in any danger.”
“Until the next time Carl decides to provoke them, and then where will we all be?”
“You don’t know that’s what’s going to happen. Carl has no motive to start another mob war.”
“What was his motive last time?”
“To cover up his own crimes, to punish Donna for keeping their daughter from him, and to finally complete his personal vendetta against my father.”
“The last one may be done. But, as far as I’m concerned, the other two files are still wide open.”
“No.” Grant shook his head. “No. With the compound destroyed, Carl doesn’t have to worry about either being exposed or pursued by them. And as for Donna… Well, Rachel has him on a pretty tight leash where that’s concerned.”
“Our only evidence of the compound’s demise comes from Carl Hutchins’ assessment of the situation. You’ll forgive me if that doesn’t exactly help me sleep nights.”
“Carl Hutchins is a sociopath, a sadist, and bastard of the first order. But, in this case, what reason does he have to lie?”
“How about because, if we believe him and decline to smoke out whatever might remain of the compound’s leadership, we’ll never get our hands on documentation detailing crimes we didn’t even know Carl committed – much less was ever charged with? Carl realizes that the compound’s records would be a treasure trove for everyone from the CIA to Interpol to the World Security Bureau. What’s a better way to keep them out of our hands than by claiming everything’s been destroyed?”
“So, go ahead, go after Carl to your heart’s content. What does my father’s death have to do with any of it?”
“Whoever killed your father is our way into the entire organization. Spencer Harrison was killed in Bay City. That puts them in my jurisdiction.”
“It’s still a start.”
“You investigate my father’s death, you pull in me, and Alice…”
“That can’t be helped, I’m sorry.”
“I just bet you are. You’re forgetting something, Hamilton. I know how this game is played just as well as you do. This is all just a reelection year ploy. You want to bring down the compound to make yourself look good.”
“And you tried to blackmail me into dropping it due to purely noble reasons?”
“I was trying to protect my stepmother.”
“You were trying to protect yourself. And I almost let you get away with it.”
“Until your poll numbers started slipping.”
Chase shrugged, turning to leave. “I wanted to give you a head’s up. It’s the decent thing to do.”
“I won’t let you get away with this,” Grant warned.
Chase merely smiled, and thought: Exactly what I’m counting on….
“Everything went great,” Morgan, fresh out of surgery, told Kevin and Amanda. “No unexpected problems, textbook procedure.”
Kevin grinned, pulling out his phone, telling Morgan, “That’s fantastic. Let me text Ike’s social worker.”
“Thank you, Morgan,” Amanda said.
“You’re welcome,” he smiled back. “You know me, I love a happy ending as much as the next guy.”
“Can I see Ike?” Kevin asked.
“Sure thing. Straight through those doors, into Pediatric ICU. If the nurses give you any static, tell them to contact me.”
“Thanks,” Kevin said, already headed for the recovery room. “Really, Morgan, thank you. I – Thank you.”
“Glad to be of help,” Morgan said, watching Kevin go, only turning back to Amanda once her husband had disappeared through the swinging doors, to ask, “How about you? How are you doing?”
“Me? I’m fine.”
“Nice of you to drop by, hold Kevin’s hand. Such a supportive wife…”
Amanda blurted out, “Kevin wants us to adopt Ike.”
“Oh,” Morgan said shortly. Then a longer, “Oh….”
“He really wants to be a dad again. And he’s crazy about this kid in particular.”
“How about you? You on board for another life sentence?”
“Wow, Morgan, what a pleasant way to put it!”
“Hey, I’m just reacting to the expression on your face.”
She sighed, “Is it that obvious?”
“To me. Obviously not to Kevin if he thought you’d even consider – “
“I am considering it.”
“No, you’re not,” Morgan contradicted calmly. “I mean, you’re making all the right noises and saying all the right things, but… no, you’re not. Not really.”
Amanda’s shoulders sagged, both defeated and relieved by the permission to give up her pretense. “No, I’m not,” she admitted.
“There. Now was that so hard?”
“You’re not my husband… Shut up, Morgan,” she cut him off as soon as he opened his mouth.
“Quit giving me such easy openings.”
“Am I the only one…” Amanda began.
She paused, already welling up with guilt, then plunged on ahead anyway. “Am I the only one who notices that the kid has… issues?”
“Well, speaking from a medical standpoint, I’d have to say no. His chart was pretty clear on the subject.”
“Then why am I the only one talking about it? I mean, does it make me a bitch to point out that the boy is retarded? He is, isn’t he? That’s what Down’s Syndrome is – mental retardation?”
“Medically speaking, there are other factors in play, and Ike isn’t exactly – “
“I know, I know, he’s got some light case, and he’s a great little boy, and if Frankie can wax poetic about raising a kid with problems, then why can’t I?”
“No one, Amanda, has ever compared you to Frankie Frame.”
“When Lorna first came out of her coma, and nobody was sure what effect all those drugs she was given would have on the baby, she and Jamie were willing to take Devon as is, no matter what.”
“That was a completely different case. What Lorna went through to have Devon…”
“Okay, but Frankie and Cass, it’s almost identical. Felicia asked them to adopt Lori Ann, and they did. They knew there would be problems down the line, but they did it anyway. They’re saints. Lorna and Jamie are saints. Everyone is a damned saint. Except for me.”
“You did the right thing,” Allie reassured Sarah. “Not telling Marley about you and Grant.” She paused, realizing something didn’t sound right in that sentence. “Why did you do the right thing?”
Sarah shrugged, chewing thoughtfully on a fingernail. “He just looked so… unhappy.”
“Wasn’t that the point?” Allie clarified. “To screw up Grant’s life the way he screwed up yours?”
“I thought it was. I mean, I went in there intending to…” Sarah sat up straighter, turning to face Allie. “But, then it occurred to me: How could you ever get a guy to love you again by turning into a person he hates?”
“I don’t know,” Allie admitted. “It just seems to be the way everyone around here does it. The stories I’ve heard about my grandmother and the stunts she pulled… I can’t imagine Jamie’s dad could even stand to look at her eventually.”
“It doesn’t make any sense, does it? Me being a bitch isn’t the way to get Grant back.”
“Whoa. Hold on. You want Grant back?”
“Of course, I do.”
“I thought this was about payback. You didn’t say you still – “
“I love him. And he loves me.”
“He just, what, forgot?”
“No,” Sarah said. “I don’t think so.”
“He’s married, Sarah. To somebody who isn’t you.”
“You don’t see that as a problem?”
“There’s something weird about his marriage to Marley.”
“Grant is weird. And Marley is nuts. And you can do better. And you’re not about to give this up, are you?”
“Nope,” Sarah said.
“Jen?” Steven craned his neck and doubled back down the BCU hallway, having passed by Jen’s dark office, only to realize there was someone sitting inside, lights off. “What are you still doing here?”
She blinked in surprise as he turned on the desktop lamp. “I – I had some work to finish. I must have fallen asleep.”
“Are you sure you didn’t pass out again?”
“I believe you,” Steven said. And took a seat in the chair across from her.
“What are you doing?”
“Watching you. Being fine.”
She allowed herself the tiniest of smiles. “You’re so weird.”
“Yeah,” Steven said. “We’ve established that previously.”
She didn’t say anything to that. But, her smile distinctively faded.
Steven sensed he was about to be ordered out, so he kept talking. “Oh, and, by the way, remember when you told me you’d never been sick a day in your life? No broken bones, no cavities, nothing?”
“Yeah,” Jen said softly. “I remember.”
“Well, I realized that can’t be true. Those scars on your arms. The cigarette burns. All the stuff your bio dad did to you. You’ve been hurt plenty of times.”
“That doesn’t count,” Jen said. “All of that happened before. It happened to Jennifer Johnson. Not Jen Fowler.”
“Oh,” Steven said.
“I’m not mentally ill,” Jen clarified. “I don’t have a split personality or anything. I’m not delusional. I just…”
“Like to pretend some stuff never happened.”
“That’s cool. I was the same after my mom died. My dad kept wanting me to talk about it. I told him there was nothing to talk about. When did talking ever solve anything?”
“Not a fan of the psychiatric arts, I take it?”
“I’d rather subject myself to that voodoo you study.”
“Wow. I’m honored.”
“I’d pick you over an alternative any day,” Steven told her.
Jen shook her head, tears filling her eyes. “Don’t… please.”
“I’m sorry.” The severity of her reaction stunned him. “I didn’t mean… “
“Just go. Please. Go. Now.”
Steven rose. And then just as quickly stopped himself. “No.” Instead of heading for the door, he rounded Jen’s desk. “No.”
“I’m so sorry.” Charlie pulled her car over to the curb, cut the engine, and turned to face Kirkland. “I had no idea my parents were going to do this to you.”
“It’s not your fault,” Kirkland said.
“Have the cops talked to you yet?”
“No. But, they called my dad to make an appointment. He’s getting me a lawyer.”
“Do you know what you’re going to say?” Charlie cringed.
Kirkland shrugged. “Same thing I told them the first time. I don’t remember anything. What – What about you?”
“I’m… still working on it.”
Kirkland nodded, the two of them sitting in thoughtful silence for a long moment before he straightened up and turned Charlie’s way, upbeat. “Anyway, happy birthday!”
She smiled weakly. “Thanks.”
“Eighteen. That’s a big deal. You’re an adult.”
“I don’t feel like one,” she admitted.
Kirkland checked his watch. “Maybe it’ll kick in after midnight?”
Charlie laughed. “You’re very sweet.”
“And you’re really pretty,” he said quickly, to keep from changing his mind, instantly drawing back in his seat, in case the remark proved ill-advised.
“Thanks,” Charlie said. Then, after a beat of hesitation, she leaned over the gearshift to kiss Kirkland on the lips. “Listen,” she began, her face still inches from his. “I know that… last time… I totally screwed up last time. So… I don’t want to, you know, push things. But, Kirk, I… I’m really ready. And I’d really like you to… I want it to be you.”
Now it was her turn to pull back and wonder if she’d said the wrong thing.
He took his time answering, finally taking Charlie’s hand, and tentatively telling her. “I want it to be you, too.”
“You’re sure?” she double-checked, determined that there would be no misunderstanding this time.
“Yeah,” he bobbed his head, starting out slowly, then picking up the pace. “I’m really, really sure. I – I want to.”
“Now? We could do it right now. Right here,” Charlie indicated the backseat.
“Okay.” Decision made, Kirkland couldn’t help grinning. “Yeah. Yeah, we could….”
“Sharlene informs me you were the one who told her about my marriage to Matthew,” Donna kept her voice strong over the phone, happy that Frankie couldn’t see her trembling hands on the other side of the receiver.
“I was,” Frankie answered coolly, unwilling to give an inch more than was asked of her until she had a better grasp of what precisely Donna was fishing for.
“May I ask why?”
“That’s none of your business.”
Donna dug her fingernails into her palm, employing the ensuing pain as a distraction to keep from snapping something equally impertinent in return, and struggling to remain calm as she followed up with, “In that case, may I inquire why anything regarding my life might be considered an affair of yours?”
“You’re Lori Ann’s grandmother.”
“A fact you, Cass, and Felicia have pointedly chosen to disregard.”
“Forewarned is forearmed, Donna. Especially where you are concerned.”
“I’m no threat to Lori Ann. Nor to your guardianship of her.”
“A little extra insurance never hurt anybody.”
“And what do you plan to do with this extra insurance of yours?”
“Is this your way of asking if I intend to expose your backstreet marriage?”
“This has nothing to do with you, Frankie!”
“John is my friend. I don’t appreciate watching him be made a fool of.”
“I have never, ever – “
“You strung him along, knowing all the while he had no chance with you!”
“That’s… that’s all over with now.”
Frankie hesitated. “Are you sure?”
“You have my word. Or,” Donna cut off what she could predictably hear as being Frankie’s disdainful scoff. “You can ask him yourself.”
“You did the right thing.”
“John means a great deal to me. Seeing him hurt was never my intention.”
“What is your intention, Donna?” Frankie asked, now merely curious, no longer invested. “What exactly are you and Matt trying to pull, him being married to both you and Jeanne at the same time?”
“Do you, or do you not intend to keep this information to yourself?” Donna demanded, fed up with playing games.
“I can’t,” Frankie said. “I owe it to my client.”
“Dean,” Frankie filled her in. “He hired me to investigate you before Jenna’s wrongful death suit hits court. This is a pretty intriguing piece of evidence, wouldn’t you say?”
“My marriage to Matthew has nothing whatsoever to do with Dean and his lawsuit!”
“I’m sorry. I find that a little hard to believe.”
“How could it possibly – “
“Well, just off the top of my head… If you and Matt are married, he can’t testify against you. That’s a pretty big one. Not to mention that you could transfer all of your assets to him, so in case the judge rules in Dean’s favor, you can claim to be legally destitute. I’m sure there’s more. I’ll have to talk to Cass about it.”
“I swear to you, Frankie, Matthew is not connected in any way – “
“We’ll leave that for a judge to decide.”
“This is preposterous,” Donna sputtered. But, her granddaughter’s adoptive mother had already hung up.
Donna’s first instinct was to pick up the phone and fling it across the room with all of her might. But, that would be gauche, to say the least.
Instead, Donna took a moment to collect herself, willing her frenzied breathing to return to normal, patting down her hair and smoothing her dress for good measure, perfectly in control. Just like always.
Instead of taking her anger out on a helpless utility, Donna, instead, decided to channel it productively. Moving slowly, almost languidly, she picked up the phone and proceeded to dial.
She was already smiling in anticipation.
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